Ecological significance of hazardous concentrations in a planktonic food web

F. De Laender, K. Soetaert, K.A.C. De Schamphelaere, J.J. Middelburg, C.R. Janssen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Species sensitivity distributions (SSDs) are statistical distributions that are used to estimate the potentially affected fraction (PAF) of species at a given toxicant concentration, the hazardous concentration for that fraction of species (HC). Here, we use an aquatic food web model that includes 14 phytoplankton and 6 zooplankton species to estimate the number of species experiencing a biomass reduction when the food web is exposed to the HC and this for 1000 hypothetical toxicants and for PAF=5-30%. When choosing a 20% decrease as a cut-off to categorize a species' biomass as affected, 0-1 and 2-5 out of the 20 species were affected at the HC and HC, respectively. From this, it can be concluded that the PAF is a relatively good estimator of the number of affected species. However, when phytoplankton species experiencing ≥20% biomass increase were also classified as affected, the number of affected species predicted by the food web model varied strongly among toxicants for PAF >5, with 2-16 out of 20 species affected at the HC. Phytoplankton species with extreme (both high and low) values for uptake rates and light limitation constants experienced smaller effects on their biomass than phytoplankton species with more average parameter values. We conclude that, next to measures of toxicity, ecological characteristics of species may help understanding ecological effects occurring in ecosystems also.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-253
Number of pages7
JournalEcotoxicology and Environmental Safety
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes


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